Adventure. What an epic word. Just saying it out loud evokes feelings of excitement, sentiment and anticipation in me. The official Google definition; “ADVENTURE: An unusual and exciting or daring experience.” Yep, it’s most definitely one of my favourite words in the English language – and one that most definitely applies to my lifestyle here in Western Australia.
My most recent adventure came about quite randomly on a road trip up to Moore River in Guilderton with my girlfriend Sam. Guilderton is a totally gorgeous place BTW, a tiny little coastal town in the Shire of Gingin – where the mouth of the Moore River meets the Indian Ocean. It’s definitely worth a trip for the beautiful walks, water activities and stunningly picturesque views. I promise to feature a blog on it in the near future!
After we’d been driving for nearly an hour north of Perth towards Two Rocks (via Voyage Kitchen for brekkie & coffee of course), I remembered a date I went on when I first arrived in Australia, when this guy – let’s call him Bruce – took me to this old abandoned marine park on our way to Yanchep Lagoon. On reflection, alarm bells totally should have gone off when Bruce said “for our next date, I really want to show you this old abandoned park, deep in the Aussie outback where no-one has been for years…” … …BUT he was hot, I was a naïve Brit and the Instagram opportunity was just too good to resist.
It actually ended up being an awesome little adventure – he didn’t try to murder me, we didn’t get arrested for trespassing and we even had our first proper pash in front of King Neptune himself. Yep, keeping it classy. I’m such a sucker for adventure, and I remember staying up hours that evening, researching the history of Atlantis Marine Park and being totally enthralled. I’ve always been amazed at the amount of Perthians I’ve since told the story of Atlantis to, who have never even heard of it!
So here we are, a blog post dedicated to what I feel is one of Perth’s most awesome secrets…
Oh, and here’s the shot I took on that date almost two years ago!
But I digress…
So, I was telling Sam all about the abandoned park and the enormous King Neptune statue – and we decided to try and find the park again. We were just about to give up (due to lack of mobile phone/Google Map coverage), when Sam spotted the top of the enormous King Neptune statue hidden behind some trees… Before I knew it, we were back where I had been almost two years previously. Only this time, some of the fences had been removed, my date was far more pretty and access didn’t appear to be as questionable as it had been previously!
Atlantis Marine Park was originally constructed in 1981 in Two Rocks, a sleepy fishing town 60km north of Perth. The park was set to be the jewel in Alan Bond’s ‘Yanchep Sun City’ crown – a premier leisure, resort and residential vision, stemming from the expectancy that Perth’s rapid expansion would be accompanied with equal growth in tourism. And so he built a marine park – to capitalize on Perth’s economic boom.
Atlantis initially proved to be a huge success, with thousands of families and holidaymakers flocking from all over WA and beyond to see the new attraction. Six months prior to the opening of Atlantis, seven bottlenose dolphins were captured off the local coast and trained as performance animals for the next decade. The live dolphin and sea-lion shows, access to marine life (including sharks, penguins and turtles!), and lush swimming pools and pedal boat rides were a huge hit – all watched over by the giant limestone statue of King Neptune, which could be seen from miles around.
Unfortunately however, the hopes for the park were ahead of their time. The tourism explosion never eventuated – and as the years passed Atlantis was gradually losing money, even after Japanese investors were brought in as financial backers. The birth of three female dolphin calves in 1988, together with changes in regulations for holding marine mammals, meant Atlantis would have to develop a much larger dolphin enclosure. This, coupled with the park losing money resulted in Atlantis closing its doors for the last time in August 1990.
It has been left abandoned ever since.
At the time of closing, Atlantis had nine dolphins; six wild born and three captive-born young adults. The owners agreed to a proposal by Dr. Nick Gales, a marine park veterinarian and research scientist, to fund the release of the dolphins to the wild, provided it would end their financial commitment to them. Once the WA Government wildlife department gave their seal of approval, the long project to rehabilitate the dolphins for release into the wild began in March 1991 – six months after the closure of Atlantis. Kelly Waples worked on the project team and documented her experience – which is well worth a read; the Atlantis Marine Park Project.
One of the dolphins unfortunately died during the project, and three of the others were moved to a pen at The Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA) due to their inability to survive in the wild without human interaction. Here they lived for a number of years before sadly dying from suspected poisoning in 1999. The five remaining dolphins however were successfully released into the wild – and were regularly seen by local fishermen approaching the Two Rocks harbour and surrounding boats for several years following their release.
35 years after it first opened it’s doors, Atlantis is now an overgrown marine world that once was… It has been almost completely retaken by nature – however there are still a few old broken limestone statues scattered around the park, such as the intricate Dolphin Statue, which used to stand by the main entrance. US born sculptor Mr Mark Le Buse was the man responsible for crafting each of the statues at Atlantis here in WA. Most of the intact statues (including Charles & Diana, The Beatles, Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplain from the Celebrity Clock) have been relocated to Club Capricorn Resort in Yanchep.
We followed the crumbled paths around the park and found the remains of old broken bridges, overgrown staircases and vast concrete pools, still with the weathered remains of liner around the edges, just visible under the wildlife. Ahh yes, there’s still plenty of lizzardy wildlife there too – guaranteed to scare the shit out of you when you pass a little too close to them… or sing to them 😉
Exotic plants and vegetation not native to Australia, which must have been imported exclusively for the park, have survived and flourished over the decades. The old water tank is still intact – endorsed with retro Coca Cola advertising and the Atlantis branding. And, of course there’s the iconic, heritage listed, giant statue of King Neptune.
Just last year (2015) the previously vandalised statue was restored to his former glory – the amazing result of an online petition from Perth-born Tenille Smith, who campaigned relentlessly for something to be done with the Atlantis ruins. Tenille, who also founded the “We want something DONE to the ruins of Atlantis Marine Park asap” Facebook page, spoke so fondly of Atlantis when we exchanged emails during my research for this piece; “It was such a magical place for us as kids. Nothing like the fun parks these days.” The park was her absolute favourite place to visit as a child – and she often went back to visit the ruins, even after relocating to Victoria. Her relentless campaign to restore the park attracted the support of over 10,000 – and resulted in King Neptune being restored to his former glory AND being heritage listed! “It was great to finally get at least King Neptune saved even if we couldn’t have the Marine Park back!” Bravo, Tenille!
Two Rocks resident Margie Rose along with a group of 10 volunteers formed the Two Rocks Environment and Development Association (TREADA) which has worked on restoring King Neptune and his surrounds since February 2015 when funds were provided to restore the statue following the petition. The area around King Neptune is still fenced, but TREADA volunteers check the gates daily to ensure the area is free from vandalism and to allow public access most weekends.
You only have to scroll through the Facebook pages dedicated to Atlantis to see the amazing memories and happiness that the park evokes for all generations. People sharing photos of their grandparents and parents visiting Atlantis back in its prime, or reminiscing about when they visited the park themselves as children. I love this 80’s home video footage of an Atlantis Dolphin show, which RYza Mc kindly gave me permission to use from his YouTube channel.
How about those fancy swimsuits, eh?!
It is unclear whether Atlantis will ever rise again. What is clear however, is that the park, namely the King Neptune statue, is a significant part of Two Rocks history. Recently there has been a push to take action, with online communities campaigning to restoreAtlantis Marine Park to its former glory.
Coming from a country which holds hundreds of thousands of years history under its Union Jack belt, it amazes me that a city as young as Perth wouldn’t want to restore an attraction as unique and, dare I say, iconic as Atlantis Marine Park. Hello? An abandoned, retro marine park. Tourism GOLD… But tourism and commercial benefits aside, Perth’s classic marine park surely deserves the respect that its history clearly holds.
The Atlantis Marine Park grounds are currently owned by property developers, the Fini Group, who have put forward a plan to develop the area into a mix of retail, commercial and public open spaces – with the statue of King Neptune being preserved… eternally looking out to sea.
And occasionally watching people pash.